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Jacqueline Risset
The Translation Begins

translated from the French by Jennifer Moxley
poems, 96 pages, smyth-sewn
ISSN 0269-0179 "Serie d'Ecriture"
ISBN 1-886224-09-9, original paperback $14


The myth of Diana and Actaeon forms the matrix for this poem which tells of Eros and Language, and of dismemberment. It tries to exasperate abstraction and absence until the horizon turns and reveals images from childhood, the child's body. Love erupts into sacrifice; sentences break into feverish clusters of shifters. Finally, the I Ching, Maurice Sceve, and Marcel Proust are translated into sheer vertigo. The author has said: "writing, as I understand it, begins biographically, autobiographically. Those moments when I first felt called by the desire to write...were always linked to something one calls mystical instances, when the barriers of identity are lifted and there is a break."

Jacqueline Risset is one of the most important contemporary French poets. Born in Besancon, in 1933, she has published six books of poetry as well as literary essays. She teaches French literature at the University La Sapienza in Rome, was one of the editors of Tel Quel, and is well-known for her translations of Italian poetry, most notably of Dante's Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso (1985-90), which received the Académie française award for translation. Among her books of poetry are Jeu (1971), Sept passages de la vie d'une femme (1985), and Petits éléments de physique amoureuse (1991). A selection in English and an interview have appeared in Serge Gavronsky: Toward a New Poetics, U of CA Press, 1994.

Jennifer Moxley is the author of Imagination Verses (Tender Buttons, 1997). She edited the magazine, The Impercipient, and (with Steve Evans), The Impercipient Lecture Series.

"Risset writes a synaptic space between languages... [she] explodes the concept of translation from that of word/object substitution... relocating the act of translation in an anti-system in which the very notion of signification is endlessly, and critically, at stake... Jennifer Moxley's translation is delicate, provocative, and, given the density of the original project, remarkably lucid...Moxley's text constitutes a striking and adventurous work in its own right."

--Craig Watson, Poetry Project Newsletter


"Risset's books of poetry are 'heterogeneous wholes,' and she finds in clusters of lines and fragments of sentences 'cells' which, when 'freed from their natural contexts...link themselves to other cells..., without any hierarchical system.' This is akin to her idea of 'disidentity,' or the sense of transcending one's own identity...as predicate to writing. The cells not only mimic overheard language--they enact our fragmented perception, our translation of the world."

--Susan Wheeler, Denver Quarterly